Design is a powerful tool but designers need to partner with human rights defenders

June 16, 2020

“Designers should not be portrayed as the heroes of our time” says Bernhard Lenger

Alice Morby in Dezeen Magazine of 26 January 2018 (this is not a typo – I came accross it only recently and thought it contained interesting thoughts as we often feel that there should be more design expertise available to human rights defenders)

Lenger, pictured at Dezeen’s Good Design For A Bad World talk, believes designers can only make a difference if paired with other “changemakers”

Born in Austria but now based in Eindhoven, Lenger often takes a political stance through his work. We Are Human Rights is the first instalment in his We Are initiative, which he describes as a platform for tackling issues through “design thinking”. Designers can’t solve real-world problems on their own, according to designer Bernhard Lenger, whose latest project sees creatives team up with human-rights defenders to develop tools for change. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/09/designers-try-their-hands-at-human-rights-issues-in-seven-countries-sudan-nicaragua-colombia-russia-kenya-mexico-and-burundi/

Think of it as a kind of consultant agency, an organisation that people, governments or NGOs can turn to and get support,” Lenger explained. “By combining the experts in two fields, design and human rights, unique and relevant projects will be the outcome – as the context of the projects is set by the culture and human rights issue of the human rights defender.

…Lenger was one of the speakers for Dezeen’s Good Design for A Bad World talks programme at Dutch Design Week 2017, where panellists – mainly designers – were invited to discuss how design could help tackle real-world issues. Speaking during a talk focused on pollution, Lenger presented another project he has been involved in, called This is Ecocide. Developed while he was studying at Design Academy Eindhoven, This is Ecocide saw Lenger partner with environmental lawyer Polly Higgins to develop a campaign to make ecocide – the destruction of the environment – illegal.

Lenger often takes a political stance with his work. His previous project, This is Ecocide, saw him try to criminalise the destruction of the environment

This project started with the discovery that ecocide was once recognised by the International Criminal Court as a crime, but was removed. With help from Higgins, he found that this was a result of lobbying from four countries: the USA, the UK, France and the Netherlands. “I was like, what should I do? I was 25 years old graduating from Design Academy, how could I work on a field of international law?” he told the audience.

Young designers are taking on more responsibility

According to Lenger, he isn’t unique in wanting to use to design to solve bigger problems. He said he had noticed a shift in the degree of responsibility felt by young designers. “Some people just want to make pretty things, some feel like there’s something missing if they just make pretty things,” he said.

https://www.dezeen.com/2018/01/26/bernhard-lenger-dutch-design-week-designers-not-heroes-interview/

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